India’s new farm suicides data: myths and facts

July 24, 2015 07:40 pm | Updated December 04, 2021 11:30 pm IST - New Delhi

File photo of relatives mourning the death of a farmer in Yavatmal district of Maharashtra, who committed suicide.

File photo of relatives mourning the death of a farmer in Yavatmal district of Maharashtra, who committed suicide.

There has been a lot of misreporting and conspiracy theorising about the new farm suicide numbers. No doubt, these numbers – as with most crime data – likely underestimate the problem.

Farmers without clear land title, for instance, may not be recognised as farmers, artificially lowering their number. The negative media reporting around farm suicides may also be an incentive against the police reporting a farm suicide as one. These caveats aside, here’s what we do know about the new farm suicide numbers.

1. The number of suicides went up, not down

In 2014, India recorded 12,360 farm suicides. This is slightly more than the number of farmer suicides registered in 2013, but in general there is a slow decline in the number of officially recorded farm suicides.

2. The definition of a farmer has not changed

For the first time this year, the NCRB splits farmers into ‘cultivators’ and ‘agricultural labourers’. This is not a new or unusual classification system; the Census for instance uses it as well. For purposes of comparison with previous years, it makes most sense to stick to the overall agriculture category, as was done in past years.

However from this year on, this new sub-division of cultivators and agricultural labourers will be an interesting sub-category to watch.

3. Maharashtra is India’s farm suicide epicentre

Nearly half of all suicides by cultivators in 2014 were in Maharashtra alone, with Telangana following.

4. The definition of a farm suicide has not changed

A leading newspaper claimed that from this year on, the NCRB is classifying only those suicides among farmers that were ostensibly for agriculture-related reasons as farm suicides. This is simply not true. As in past years, there is a range of official reasons behind a suicide, as per the First Information Report (the sum of which make up NCRB numbers).

This year, the NCRB includes a break-up by cause for some professions including farmers and armed forces personnel. For farmers, over 40 per cent of suicides can be attributed to bankruptcy or farming related problems.

5. Bankruptcy contributes significantly more to farm suicides than to other suicides

This clearly illustrates the problems with making farming profitable and extending agricultural credit, both of which we talked about in this piece on the economics of farming in India.

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